The centerpiece of Coalfield’s operation is its Quality Jobs Initiative (QJI), a program that employs local youth – recent high school graduates to those in their twenties – to be boots on the ground for the organization’s construction, deconstruction, and rehabilitation projects. The QJI is uniquely manifested via the 33-6-3 model. This numeric moniker describes what Coalfield believes is a well-rounded and complete approach to laying the foundation for a quality life. Participants in the QJI are expected to complete 33 hours per week of paid manual labor, attend six credit hours of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses toward an applied science degree at a community college, and complete three hours per week of life skills training.
The 33 aspect is straight-forward. Managed by crew chief Larry Endicott, the QJI crew meets at 6:30 a.m. to start the day’s work. Crew members learn comprehensive aspects of general contracting and construction practices, from proper tool use and measurement techniques to plumbing and electrical wiring. The crew also does deconstruction of dilapidated structures. After demolition, Coalfield recycles, resells, or even repurposes materials – the QJI desk in the office is constructed from repurposed doors and other materials, serving as a symbol for the initiative’s resourceful attitude. Dennison claims around 80% of deconstructed material is reused, with only 20% going to landfills. In a recent project, Coalfield gutted a 10,000 square foot building utilizing only a single construction dumpster.
The Wayne High School construction teacher informed the current cohort of crew members about Coalfield’s QJI and its opportunity of higher education, a rarity in southern West Virginia. “It’s sort of relaxed but very productive at the same time, the atmosphere allows you to show your true potential,” stated one QJI crew member. Larry would agree. “I love working for [Coalfield],” he said. “I think it’s going really well. The boys have learned a lot and are all really improving.” Another QJI crew member proclaimed his excitement to be working on their current project in downtown Wayne. “It’s a great involvement with the community,” he said. “The current project being downtown means we get to tell residents what we’re doing and what [Coalfield] is about while we’re working.” The crew’s commitment to Coalfield’s mission actively serves as an in-house public relations campaign.
The six hours (6) of community college courses allow the QJI members to obtain an associate’s degree in applied sciences. In an area where access to higher education tends to sit atop a glass ceiling, Coalfield offers a glimpse of opportunity in a sea of poverty. The degree serves as a stepping stone to a variety of options for the QJI members. Some will go on to pursue four-year collegiate degrees. Some will develop their own businesses and eventually be job creators in an area with woefully high unemployment. Others will strike out to other communities and spread the lessons they’ve learned in the Mountain State’s countryside to those who can benefit elsewhere. What’s most exciting of all, perhaps, is the genuine drive and passion the QJI members exhibit toward learning.
The life skills (3) component of the 33-6-3 model is designed to instill personal and fiscal responsibility in the crew members – an aspect of public education that is decreasingly present in national curriculums. Coalfield understands that basic financial and parenting skills are just as important as technical and theoretical knowledge. In an area with high poverty, financial skills are that much more crucial to the success and longevity of community members. Concepts taught in life skills include time and money management, leadership, emotional and physical health, tolerance, and the setting and achievement of long-term goals. While the life skills component comprises the smallest portion of the model, its far-reaching nature will likely provide the greatest impact on QJI participants – helping them achieve Coalfield’s overall mission of a quality life.
Dylan Jones – Jones Environmental Media